The ASEAN region is one of the most vibrant hub of socio-economic activities with constant influx of global population in and out of the region. Consequent to the free flow of the global population, the region is thus frequently exposed to the risk of global pandemics resulting in serious public health crises. The most recent crises affecting the region include the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003, the Avian Influenza outbreaks and Pandemic Influenza A(H1N1) 2009 which caused serious socio-economic impact and highlighted the urgent need for ASEAN of an integrated regional approach to manage the health crises affecting the region.1.2.
The ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Programme was an initial effort to fulfill the need for an integrated regional approach to meet the continuing threat of the global pandemics. Subsequently, the ASEAN Plus Three EID Programme Phase II established several mechanisms, platforms and policies as ground work for a regional preparedness and response to the regional pandemics. Risk communication is then identified as the key communication strategies in managing information in a public health crisis. Member Countries representatives are task to share timely information on the outbreaks.1.3.
During the Planning Meeting of the ASEAN Plus Three EID Programme held in July 2009 in Bali, Indonesia and The Senior Officials Meeting on Health Development (SOMHD) held on 7-9 December 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the meetings made a recommendation to establish the ASEAN Risk Communication Resource Centre. This is due to the recognition of the importance of such Centre to facilitate the collaboration in risk communication which is crucial during outbreaks and pandemics. The Meetings requested Malaysia, as a proponent of this initiative, to prepare and submit a concept paper on the proposed ASEAN Risk Communication Resource Centre. The beneficiaries of the project will be the ASEAN Secretariat, the ASEAN Member Countries as well as World Health Organization. The proposal was endorsed at the 10th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting (AHMM) held in Singapore in July 2010. In March 2012, the ASEAN RCRC mandate was defined at the 7th SOMHD Plus Three meeting in Philippines.1.4.
To expedite its establishment, the RCRC is located for the interim period at the Institute for Health Behavioural Research (IHBR), Ministry of Health using existing infrastructures, resources and with minimal staffing and secretarial support. RCRC had conducted its first Training of Trainers on Risk Communication for ASEAN Member Countries on 17-19 December 2012.
Risk communication is a relatively new social science discipline that continues to evolve in its concepts, scope and practice since its early days of development in 1980s in the western countries. Basically, it is a two way communication of knowledge, opinions and actions on risks between stakeholders for behaviour change in managing the risks.
Risk communication is now recognized as one of the most important component in managing any public health crisis. It enables effective communication of critical information and actions which are timely, accurate, credible and relevant for all phases of the crisis.
WHO has identified three key components of risk communication during an outbreak/health crisis, namely:
18.104.22.168 Health emergency communications;
22.214.171.124 Operation communications; and
126.96.36.199 Behaviour change communications.
ASEAN Plus Three Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) Programme Phase II on Risk Communication:
Under this programme, Malaysian was given the mandate as the proponent country on risk communication in view of its experiences on managing various EID outbreaks and its pioneering risk communication training programme conducted since 1999.
Following the mandate given, Malaysia with the support of the ASEAN Secretariat, had succesfully hosted and conducted the following workshops:
Workshop on Strengthening Risk Communication in ASEAN Plus Three Countries, 24-26 March 2008 which resulted in the formulation of the Risk Communication Strategic Plan for the ASEAN region and ASEAN member countries;
Workshop on Risk Communication Training Module Development for ASEAN Plus Three Countries, 21- 23 October 2008 that developed a generic risk communication training module for use by Asean Member countries; and
Workshop on Training of Trainers on Risk Communication for ASEAN Plus Three Countries, 21-23 April 2009 that utilized the generic ASEAN Risk Communication Training Module.